At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, virtual events dominated the corporate event industry, crowding out the old ways of in-person networking, handshakes, and whispering inside jokes to other attendees.
But as the pandemic evolves and we emerge from virtual hibernation, virtual events have been pushed out of the spotlight. Now, say hello to the newest, biggest event trend of 2021: hybrid events.
At this point, you might be groaning to yourself at the thought of having to adjust for yet another new event trend in a year when you’ve only just nailed down how to go fully virtual.
But have no fear! Hybrid events might just be a blessing in disguise for your organisation. These part-virtual, part-traditional events may take a bit of extra effort to pull off, but they also offer exciting new ways for you to engage your members, employees, or colleagues.
To meet these challenges head-on and set your organisation up for future event success, consider these expert tips for hybrid event planning, management, and engagement.
Tweak your event planning strategies
After a year of tedious Zoom meetings, your audience may see the word “hybrid event” and wince. After all, who would willingly spend another minute staring at a video feed, wishing they were doing something funner?
Luckily, your hybrid event won’t be anything like those boring office meetings. Well-planned hybrid events take the best of both worlds, infusing in-person and virtual events into a single, engaging and cohesive experience.
Plus, event management software supports a far wider range of virtual activities than the video chat platforms people have gotten used to. You just need to know which activities will really grab your audience’s attention.
You probably already have a good idea of the events that in-person attendees will enjoy. You can never go wrong with goodie bags, catered lunches, and party games. But the Fonteva virtual event guide offers some engaging activities for your online participants:
- Interactive e-learning and skill development courses
- Virtual tours and exhibits
- Virtual forums and chat rooms
- Recorded interviews, performances, and speakers
These are just a handful of the virtual activities you can pair with traditional event strategies to keep your virtual participants engaged.
On top of that, here are a few other best practices to keep in mind when planning and marketing your hybrid event:
- Track previous event data, like your attendees’ engagement histories
- Pay attention to survey feedback to figure out what events and experiences your audience is looking for
- Send resources in advance like your event schedule and instructions for how to access your virtual event platform
- Leverage email, text, and social media marketing to ensure that your event is known
Whether your next event is a meeting between staff or a conference for your clients, these strategies should help you to put together an activity schedule that will engage every attendee.
Choose the right venue
Your virtual participants need a lot of support to have a positive hybrid event experience. After all, they’re probably tuning in from their sofas or kitchens, wearing pajama bottoms and looking longingly at the TV in the next room. You’ll need to put in the work to keep them entertained.
That being said, you can’t forget about the needs of your in-person attendees! They make up half of your audience, and unlike virtual attendees, they can’t easily escape if they’re having a bad time.
Your event venue is one choice that can have a big impact on their experience. The wrong venue can confuse your attendees, restrict your activity offerings, and even ruin the event experience. But the right event space can energize guests and make them excited to explore the different nooks and crannies of your meeting space.
Here are a few good questions to keep in mind when choosing an event venue:
- Is the venue up to health and safety standards?
- Does it include outdoor areas?
- Are you allowed to decorate the space yourself?
- What technology is provided?
- What is the space’s capacity?
- Will you have the space to yourself, or will it be shared?
Be mindful of your preferences, needs, and limitations when selecting an event venue. This will allow you to celebrate your audience’s return to in-person gatherings with a space that’s worthy of the occasion.
Keep up communication between attendees
Some of your event attendees are going to be face-to-face, clapping each other on the back and exchanging inside jokes just like the good old days. But others will be tuning in from opposite ends of the globe.
Your challenge is to make sure that everyone, no matter where in the world they may be, can speak to one another and make meaningful connections.
After all, one of the keys to event management is making sure that everyone has a memorable and positive experience. Allowing attendees to chat, engage, and build networks is important for pulling off a successful event and encouraging future attendance.
If you’re struggling to come up with ideas to encourage person-to-person engagement, don’t fret. Pathable’s virtual events article offers some wisdom in this area: Icebreakers, meet-and-greet activities, and breakout sessions are a few easy ways to encourage interaction between attendees.
While simple meeting platforms like Zoom may not be able to handle all of these snazzy engagement strategies, most event management platforms will do the trick. This software supports dedicated discussion forums, video breakout rooms, and even game integrations for maximum person-to-person engagement.
However you go about setting up your virtual event platform, these strategies help to guarantee that virtual participants don’t miss out on precious networking opportunities.
Shake things up with gamification
Gamification is the incorporation of game-like elements into non-gaming environments, like a point system for participant engagement or giving out badges for audience achievements.
One of the hardest parts of planning an engaging hybrid event is finding a way to promote a fun, interactive experience for everyone. Fortunately, gamification allows you to infuse elements of fun back into your event, both for in-person and virtual guests.
For example, some effective event-enhancing gamification techniques would include:
- Quizzes, trivia, and mini-games
- Personalized profiles with pinnable achievements
- Digital badges and titles
- Social media integration, such as event hashtags
Host a virtual scavenger hunt for hidden clues within your online exhibits. Give your most talkative attendees MVP badges to pin on their member profiles. Pit attendees head-to-head with the ultimate movie trivia game.
Get creative, and whatever you do, don’t be afraid to have fun!
Gamification is a powerful engagement tool for any type of event. But it can be especially useful when half of your attendees are at home, slumped in their desk chairs.
Book your Event Venues
Best of all, you might already have the tools to begin launching these gamification strategies in your event platform.
Collect data during your event
One of the perks of hybrid events is that you don’t have to wait until every attendee has cleared out of your venue or shut off their laptops to know if the event was a success.
Your event management system will automatically track important data about your virtual participants as your event is unfolding. On top of that, you can even use your chosen hybrid event software to get a feel for how in-person attendees are doing during the event.
For instance, these data collection strategies can help you understand how and where your event succeeded (or failed) before the last car has pulled out of the parking lot:
- Mid-event experience surveys
- Attendance metrics for individual panels, speakers, and exhibits
- Start and stop times for each virtual participant’s attendance
These metrics can help you to course-correct as your event is unfolding, like promoting opportunities attendees seem interested in or incorporating their feedback to make your hybrid event more engaging.
For example, let’s say that you send out an experience survey three hours into a six-hour conference. Maybe your attendees are having the time of their lives and you can give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
Or maybe your catered lunches are incorrectly labeled, the microphone at one of your guest lectures stopped working, or people are inappropriately using your event hashtag.
Good or bad, this feedback is valuable to know. By keeping a pulse on your event’s performance, you can stamp out all these little fires as they happen.
Hybrid events help to strike a balance between the convenience of virtual activities and the meaningful interactions of in-person gatherings. They can be tough to launch, but the risk is well worth the reward.
In fact, if you manage and navigate these events correctly and mind the tools we’ve shared with you, then you may be able to go far beyond what was possible for both your virtual or in-person events.
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